Brooke Burgess was a clerk in the office of the Ecclesiastical Commissioners in London, and as such had to do with things very solemn, grave, and almost melancholy. He had to deal with the rents of episcopal properties, to correspond with clerical claimants, and to be at home with the circumstances of underpaid vicars and perpetual curates with much less than 300 pounds a-year; but yet he was as jolly and pleasant at his desk as though he were busied about the collection of the malt tax, or wrote his letters to admirals and captains instead of to deans and prebendaries. Brooke Burgess had risen to be a senior clerk, and was held in some respect in his office; but it was not perhaps for the amount of work he did, nor yet on account of the gravity of his demeanour, nor for the brilliancy of his intellect. But if not clever, he was sensible; though he was not a dragon of official virtue, he had a conscience and he possessed those small but most valuable gifts by which a man becomes popular among men. And thus it had come to pass in all those battles as to competitive merit which had taken place in his as in other public offices, that no one had ever dreamed of putting a junior over the head of Brooke Burgess. He was tractable, easy, pleasant, and therefore deservedly successful. All his brother clerks called him Brooke except the young lads who, for the first year or two of their service, still denominated him Mr Burgess.
‘Brooke,’ said one of his juniors, coming into his room and standing before the fireplace with a cigar in his mouth, ‘have you heard who is to be the new Commissioner?’
‘Colenso, to be sure,’ said Brooke.
‘What a lark that would be. And I don’t see why he shouldn’t. But it isn’t Colenso. The name has just come down.’
‘And who is it?’
‘Old Proudie, from Barchester.’
‘Why, we had him here years ago, and he resigned.’
‘But he’s to come on again now for a spell. It always seems to me that the bishops ain’t a bit of use here. They only get blown up, and snubbed, and shoved into corners by the others.’
‘You young reprobate, to talk of shoving an archbishop into a corner.’
‘Well don’t they? It’s only for the name of it they have them. There’s the Bishop of Broomsgrove; he’s always sauntering about the place, looking as though he’d be so much obliged if somebody would give him something to do. He’s always smiling, and so gracious just as if he didn’t feel above half sure that he had any right to be where he is, and he thought that perhaps somebody was going to kick him.’
‘And so old Proudie is coming up again,’ said Brooke.
‘It certainly is very much the same to us whom they send. He’ll get shoved into a corner, as you call it, only that he’ll go into the corner without any shoving.’ Then there came in a messenger with a card, and Brooke learned that Hugh Stanbury was waiting for him in the stranger’s room. In performing the promise made to Dorothy, he had called upon her brother as soon as he was back in London, but had not found him. This now was the return visit.
‘I thought I was sure to find you here,’ said Hugh. ‘Pretty nearly sure from eleven till five,’ said Brooke. ‘A hard stepmother like the Civil Service does not allow one much chance of relief. I do get across to the club sometimes for a glass of sherry and a biscuit but here I am now, at any rate; and I’m very glad you have come.’ Then there was some talk between them about affairs at Exeter; but as they were interrupted before half an hour was over their heads by a summons brought for Burgess from one of the secretaries, it was agreed that they should dine together at Burgess’s club on the following day. ‘We can manage a pretty good beef-steak,’ said Brooke, ‘and have a fair glass of sherry. I don’t think you can get much more than that anywhere nowadays unless you want a dinner for eight at three guineas a head. The magnificence of men has become so intolerable now that one is driven to be humble in one’s self-defence.’ Stanbury assured his acquaintance that he was anything but magnificent in his own ideas, that cold beef and beer was his usual fare, and at last allowed the clerk to wait upon the secretary.
‘I wouldn’t have any other fellow to meet you,’ said Brooke as they sat at their dinners, ‘because in this way we can talk over the dear old woman at Exeter. Yes, our fellow does make good soup, and it’s about all that he does do well. As for getting a potato properly boiled, that’s quite out of the question. Yes, it is a good glass of sherry. I told you we’d a fairish tap of sherry on. Well, I was there, backwards and forwards, for nearly six weeks.’
‘And how did you get on with the old woman?’
‘Like a house on fire,’ said Brooke.
‘She didn’t quarrel with you?’
‘No upon the whole she did not. I always felt that it was touch and go. She might or she might not. Every now and then she looked at me, and said a sharp word, as though it was about to come. But I had determined when I went there altogether to disregard that kind of thing.’
‘It’s rather important to you is it not?’
‘You mean about her money?’
‘Of course, I mean about her money,’ said Stanbury.
‘It is important and so it was to you.’
‘Not in the same degree, or nearly so. And as for me, it was not on the cards that we shouldn’t quarrel. I am so utterly a Bohemian in all my ideas of life, and she is so absolutely the reverse, that not to have quarrelled would have been hypocritical on my part or on hers. She had got it into her head that she had a right to rule my life; and, of course, she quarrelled with me when I made her understand that she should do nothing of the kind. Now, she won’t want to rule you.’
‘I hope not.’
‘She has taken you up,’ continued Stanbury, ‘on altogether a different understanding. You are to her the representative of a family to whom she thinks she owes the restitution of the property which se enjoys. I was simply a member of her own family, to which she owes nothing. She thought it well to help one of us out of what she regarded as her private purse, and she chose me. But the matter is quite different with you.’
‘She might have given everything to you, as well as to me,’ said Brooke.
‘That’s not her idea. She conceives herself bound to leave all she has back to a Burgess, except anything she may save as she says, off her own back, or out of her own belly. She has told me so a score of times.’
‘And what did you say?’
‘I always told her that, let her do as she would, I should never ask any question about her will.’
‘But she hates us all like poison except me,’ said Brooke. ‘I never knew people so absurdly hostile as are your aunt and my uncle Barty. Each thinks the other the most wicked person in the world.’
‘I suppose your uncle was hard upon her once.’
‘Very likely. He is a hard man and has, very warmly, all the feelings of an injured man. I suppose my uncle Brooke’s will was a cruel blow to him. He professes to believe that Miss Stanbury will never leave me a shilling.’
‘He is wrong, then,’ said Stanbury.
‘Oh yes he’s wrong, because he thinks that that’s her present intention. I don’t know that he’s wrong as to the probable result.’
‘Who will have it, then?’
‘There are ever so many horses in the race,’ said Brooke. ‘I’m one.’
‘You’re the favourite,’ said Stanbury.
‘For the moment I am. Then there’s yourself.’
‘I’ve been scratched, and am altogether out of the betting.’
‘And your sister,’ continued Brooke.
‘She’s only entered to run for the second money; and, if she’ll trot over the course quietly, and not go the wrong side of the posts, she’ll win that.’
‘She may do more than that. Then there’s Martha.’
‘My aunt will never leave her money to a servant. What she may give to Martha would come from her own savings.’
‘The next is a dark horse, but one that wins a good many races of this kind. He’s apt to come in with a fatal rush at the end.’
‘Who is it?’
‘The hospitals. When an old lady finds in her latter days that she hates everybody, and fancies that the people around her are all thinking of her motley, she’s uncommon likely to indulge herself a little bit of revenge, and solace herself with large-handed charity.’
‘But she’s so good a woman at heart,’ said Hugh.
‘And what can a good woman do better than promote hospitals?’
‘She’ll never do that. She’s too strong. It’s a maudlin sort of thing, after all, for a person to leave everything to a hospital.’
‘But people are maudlin when they’re dying,’ said Brooke ‘or even when they think they’re dying. How else did the Church get the estates, of which we are now distributing so bountifully some of the last remnants down at our office? Come into the next room, and we’ll have a smoke.’
They had their smoke, and then they went at half-price to the play; and, after the play was over, they eat three or four dozen of oysters between them. Brooke Burgess was a little too old for oysters at midnight in September; but he went through his work like a man. Hugh Stanbury’s powers were so great, that he could have got up and done the same thing again, after he had been an hour in bed, without any serious inconvenience.
But, in truth, Brooke Burgess had still another word or two to say before he went to his rest, They supped somewhere near the Haymarket, and then he offered to walk home with Stanbury, to his chambers in Lincoln’s Inn. ‘Do you know that Mr Gibson at Exeter?’ he asked, as they passed through Leicester Square.
‘Yes; I knew him. He was a sort of tame-cat parson at my aunt’s house, in my days.’
‘Exactly but I fancy that has come to an end now. Have you heard anything about him lately?’
‘Well yes I have,’ said Stanbury, feeling that dislike to speak of his sister which is common to most brothers when in company with other men.
‘I suppose you’ve heard of it, and, as I was in the middle of it all, of course I couldn’t but know all about it too. Your aunt wanted him to marry your sister.’
‘So I was told.’
‘But your sister didn’t see it,’ said Brooke.
‘So I understand,’ said Stanbury. ‘I believe my aunt was exceedingly liberal,’ and meant to do the best she could for poor Dorothy; but, if she didn’t like him, I suppose she was right not to have him,’ said Hugh.
‘Of course she was right,’ said Brooke, with a good deal of enthusiasm.
‘I believe Gibson to be a very decent sort of fellow,’ said Stanbury.
‘A mean, paltry dog,’ said Brooke. There had been a little whisky-toddy after the oysters, and Mr Burgess was perhaps moved to a warmer expression of feeling than he might have displayed had he discussed this branch of the subject before supper. ‘I knew from the first that she would have nothing to say to him. He is such a poor creature!’
‘I always thought well of him,’ said Stanbury, ‘and was inclined to think that Dolly might have done worse.’
‘It is hard to say what is the worst a girl might do; but I think she might do, perhaps, a little better.’
‘What do you mean?’ said Hugh.
‘I think I shall go down, and ask her to take myself.’
‘Do you mean it in earnest?’
‘I do,’ said Brooke. ‘Of course, I hadn’t a chance when I was there. She told me —’
‘Who told you, Dorothy?’
‘No, your aunt she told me that Mr Gibson was to marry your sister. You know your aunt’s way. She spoke of it as though the thing were settled as soon as she had got it into her own head; and she was as hot upon it as though Mr Gibson had been an archbishop. I had nothing to do then but to wait and see.’
‘I had no idea of Dolly being fought for by rivals.’
‘Brothers never think much of their sisters,’ said Brooke Burgess.
‘I can assure you I think a great deal of Dorothy,’ said Hugh. ‘I believe her to be as sweet a woman as God ever made. She hardly knows that she has a self belonging to herself.’
‘I’m sure she doesn’t,’ said Brooke.
‘She is a dear, loving, sweet-tempered creature, who is only too ready to yield in all things.’
‘But she wouldn’t yield about Gibson,’ said Brooke.
‘How did she and my aunt manage?’
‘Your sister simply said she couldn’t and then that she wouldn’t. I never thought from the first moment that she’d take that fellow. In the first place he can’t say boo to a goose.’
‘But Dolly wouldn’t want a man to say boo.’
‘I’m not so sure of that, old fellow. At any rate I mean to try myself. Now what’ll the old woman say?’
‘She’ll be pleased as Punch, I should think,’ said Stanbury.
‘Either that or else she’ll swear that she’ll never speak another word to either of us. However, I shall go on with it.’
‘Does Dorothy know anything of this?’ asked Stanbury.
‘Not a word,’ said Brooke. ‘I came away a day or so after Gibson was settled; and as I had been talked to all through the affair by both of them, I couldn’t turn round and offer myself the moment he was gone. You won’t object will you?’
‘Who; I?’ said Stanbury. ‘I shall have no objection as long as Dolly pleases herself. Of course you know that we haven’t as much as a brass farthing among us?’
‘That won’t matter if the old lady takes it kindly,’ said Brooke. Then they parted, at the corner of Lincoln’s Inn Fields, and Hugh as he went up to his own rooms, reflected with something of wonderment on the success of Dorothy’s charms. She had always been the poor one of the family, the chick out of the nest which would most require assistance from the stronger birds; but it now appeared that she would become the first among all the Stanburys. Wealth had first flowed down upon the Stanbury family from the will of old Brooke Burgess; and it now seemed probable that poor Dolly would ultimately have the enjoyment of it all.
Last updated Sunday, July 31, 2016 at 20:26